Shining a light on the shadows.
The second limb of Patanjali's 8 fold path contains the five practices of Niyamas (observances), one of which is Svadhaya or self-study. The process of Svadhaya means a deep dive within. To observe our whole self we need to take a journey into the shadows.
Shadow work is all about bringing the unconscious to the conscious. It’s the process of uncovering the hidden sides to our personalities. It’s not dark or ominous, and it is absolutely not about self indulgence. But it’s not a walk in the park either. After all, there is a reason why you chose to hide them in the first place.
Jung first introduced the concept of the shadow as aspects of self that are repressed or hidden away. He called it the person you would rather not be. It’s a process that begins at infancy when we first realise we have to conform to a societal norm. We become conscious of a desire to "belong" and begin a process of splitting our born innateness into seen and unseen or acceptable and unacceptable.
This process continues throughout our life as we meet new situations, new people and enter new relationships. We suppress certain feelings, emotions and personality traits, hiding or denying parts of our self in order to fit into our idea of who we need to be. We are constantly evolving to be an ideal self from the moment we become conscious of our place in the world, and in doing we are consciously or unconsciously denying aspects of ourselves to fit the mould.
The trouble is, by denying these feelings, emotions and personality traits we don’t learn how to work best with them and they continue to permeate our life from within. Often times these ‘shadow selves’ are can appear dysfunctional or destructive in nature because they are acting on a subconscious level to drive the circumstances we manifest into our lives.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate” Carl Jung.
In my own life I had begun to notice that circumstances were playing out in a cyclic fashion. Lessons were repeating themselves, challenges I had avoided were resurfacing wearing a new mask and people who I failed to stand up to were being resurrected in a new acquaintance. Through self study I realised that these were not just coincidences or 'bad luck', but carried a deeper trigger, a karmic pattern that needed to be seen to be healed. It felt like each of the times I had avoided myself or had acted against my integrity were manifesting in new shapes and forms across my present life.
A great tool for self-study and for shadow work is meditation. By stilling the fluctuations of mind through meditation we are able to cultivate the state of the witness. From this state life is not done to us, behaviours are not good, or bad, sad or happy, they just are. By identifying the shadow feelings (for example fear, anger, sadness, disappointment) that were stirring up within me, I was then able to take them into my meditations and just sit with them and observe the physical reaction to them within my body and become open to the story it carried. What I found was that I was able to journey beneath the surface experience to find the underlying cause; the memory, moment, experience that caused me to reject a part of myself. In locating the root cause it enables us to lovingly forgive and accept that part of ourselves and release the experience from our energy body.
The second tool of shadow work is to gain conscious awareness of our impulse behaviours. To observe the the triggers that unconsciously drive our knee jerk reactions. Think of the times you snapped at your partner, mother, brother and immediately regretted it, said a mean comment completely out of character, or even how you react to things like new opportunities, do you run toward them or cower in fear? To cultivate the state of awareness I used the sutra “Heyam Dukham Anagatham” which translates to 'avoidable is the suffering that has not yet come'. The sutra acted as a reminder that I was a creator of my own story. I intended it as a checkpoint to prompt me to bite my tongue, in my situation I had noticed I was acting reactively in the workplace to small situations. What it did was allow me to step back and see the root drivers of my behaviour. I realised that it was precisely because I was out of integrity with myself in the work I was doing that I was acting out, I was squashing my voice because my opinion wasn’t valued that this behaviour was coming up.
The shadow self I retrieved during this process last year was actually not so terrible. She was a sensitive and compassionate warrior. Memories of being a child who always stood up for what I believed in. Who felt injustice deeply, and approached life heart first. She wrote write letters to the Prime Minister to ask him to intervene on behalf of child soldiers in Sierra Leone. She stood as a freckled fourteen year old in front of her entire high school, voice cracking with emotion and asked them to support part in a fundraiser for displaced women in Sudan. But somewhere along the way of chasing success in a corporate world that girl with the big heart and so much integrity got lost, carving off that part of myself to fit into the world around me. I realised I was forcing myself to conform to expectations and behaviours that weren’t reflecting who I really am. By shining a light on the shadow of my reactivity and fear I saw it for what it truly was. Only then was I was able to stop speaking out of turn and allow myself the permission to speak my truth with compassion, clarity and integrity.
This is why we need to do the shadow work. To come home to our own truth.
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
Bio / About:
Karina is a yogini, a beach dweller and a curious soul, always asking the big questions of life. Working in a high pressure corporate role my yoga practise became the only place my mind stopped whirring, where my senses became calm, centred, still. My mat became my haven, this magic place of peaceful connection and I wanted to learn more about it. To learn how to cultivate that stillness myself. Suffering burn out eventually lead me to yoga teacher training and my own experiences through living yoga continue to inspire me to share those learnings with others. Join her for the edit here: www.lifeedit.org/theedit
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